One of the biggest things this team has embraced since Chris Paul went down with his injury is a new found sense of teamwork. It's been one of their greatest attributes over the last 13 games without their on-court leader. Tonight showcased that teamwork in a variety of different ways as they battled the tough and determined Washington Wizards at the Staples Center. It was the first home game for the Los Angeles Clippers in a span of 13 days and they made it count.
The game began with a serious hodgepodge of turnovers and fouls by both teams. The first quarter saw the two sides combine for 8 turnovers and 11 fouls. Not really something that was aesthetically pleasing to anyone who was watching. Blake Griffin led the way for the Clippers with 12 points in the quarter while Darren Collison chipped in with 10 of his own. However, the Wizards led after 31-30 after the initial 12 minutes.
The second quarter saw a better effort from the Clippers on both ends. On offense they looked a lot more focused and polished while on defense they kept the Wizards a tad off kilter. One thing I should note is that in the first quarter, the Wizards stayed in the game thanks to their fast break chances. In the second quarter, that really changed. They didn't get as many fast break opportunities and you could see it bogged them down. Clippers won the quarter 32-20 and took a 62-51 lead into the halftime break.
In the third quarter, the Wizards got out on the break again and it helped them win the quarter 23-19. In non-fast break sets, the Wizards actually shot 6 of 13 in the quarter which, while still being 46%, is something the Clippers could have lived with. If it weren't for Blake Griffin that third quarter, the Clippers would probably have been toast. He had 12 of the team's 19 points and generally carried them through stretches.
The final frame was basically a grinding slugfest for a while. About 3 minutes in, the Wizards had cut the Clippers lead from 7 to 3 and looked like they could take control. But then JJ Redick happened. Or, perhaps, I should say JJ Redickulous. In a span of 65 seconds, Redick made a three, got fouled on another three-point attempt and made two of those free throws, and hit another three. He had 8 points in 65 seconds. While that's nothing insane, it buoyed the offense when it needed help the most.
However, this game still was a close contest throughout the final minutes. Over the final 6 minutes of the game, the Clippers went just 2 of 6 from the field. The Wizards really played great defense down the stretch but just couldn't get over the hump. Randy Wittman going with Hack-a-Jordan twice in a 20 second span really killed Washington's momentum. DeAndre made all four of his free throws and really helped the Clippers down the stretch with his defense, as well, by having two blocks at crucial moments.
The Clippers held on for a 110-103 win despite the offensive problems late in the game. Whenever they got bogged down, they'd usually get a call and end up going to the line. Nothing wrong with that in a game like this where it seemed like all the calls were justified. The Clippers shot 15 free throws in the final frame, with 4 of them coming intentionally on fouls, and made 13 of those 15. You're going to win quite a few games when you do that in the fourth quarter.
Before getting into the Game Ball portion of this, I want to talk about Darren Collison a little bit. I felt he did a superb job tonight in handling the offense. In that first quarter, and even throughout the course of the game, he really steered the ship in the right direction and played great. I even remarked that he looked a little like Steve Nash with his probing dribble around the rim tonight. He really seemed in control and despite John Wall having 19 points and 11 assists tonight, I never felt like Wall got the best of him. I felt Collison really matched Wall's production tonight with his own 16 point and 9 assist performance.
Also, DeAndre Jordan showed up when we needed him the most. Last year, under Vincenzo The Black, DeAndre would have never gotten those minutes but tonight he did, despite Doc Rivers trying to take him out at one point, and he showed that he should get those minutes. He looked lost for a lot of this game but really came through with his defense and free throws at the end. Hats off to him. Better to show up late than never to show up at all.
Lastly, JJ Redick carried this team in the fourth quarter when we were hurting. Redick just understands basketball so well that when his playing days are over, I wouldn't be surprised if he becomes a head coach. He's so damn smart and so damn beautiful that on Valentine's Day, I hope he'll be mine. I don't care that's he married. I'll homewreck it up. But, in all seriousness, Redick was great.
Now for the Inaugural Game Ball from me. It goes to Blake Griffin. With 29 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists, Blake Griffin set the tone for this team, especially in the first and third quarters. He is this team right now and despite all the help he got, he was the one driving the van tonight. Since Chris Paul has gone down, he's averaging 25.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 1.5 steals on 55.7% shooting. He's turned into LeBron James a little bit. Not up to that level, overall, but right below in terms of production. It's great to see.
The honorable mention for the game ball goes to Garrett Temple of the Washington Wizards. He's here for two reasons. First off, he picked up 5 personal fouls tonight but 3 of those 5 involved him fouling a three-point shooter while they were in mid-shot. In fact, his personal fouls tonight resulted in 10 free throw attempts for Clippers players. Secondly, his layup at the buzzer cut the final margin from 9 to 7. The Vegas line was -8.5 in favor of LAC tonight. His wrath was felt by all. This is all in good fun, Garrett. But, seriously, thanks.
Up next for the Clippers are the Golden State Warriors tomorrow night at Oracle. These two share a really special bond. The kind of bond two boxers develop over a few years that usually leads into a trilogy. I'm not talking Ali-Frazier or Pacquiao-Marquez here. More like Gatti-Ward. Two teams just standing toe-to-toe and slugging it out without being put into the forefront. Tomorrow night, maybe we'll see a reenactment of the 9th round of Gatti-Ward I in basketball form. One could only hope.
For the Washington Wizards perspective on the game, be sure to check out Bullets Forever.